Pre- and post-workout meals

Did you know that you can maximize the results of your workouts with food? You may think that eating the right foods is only important when you are a big and bulky bodybuilder or an elite sporter, but actually it is beneficial for everyone to think about what you eat before and after exercising, because it is an easy way to get more out of your workouts.

There are several factors important when considering food and exercise. What your body will need pre- and post-workout depends on what kind of exercise you will be doing and for how long.
Hydration is very important in all sports, without enough fluids you will perform considerably less. Water is perfectly fine, because you don’t need extra sugars and the electrolytes you lose can be replenished by the food you eat. Only when you exercise very intensive, for a long time, or on a very hot day, a sports drink can be beneficial to prevent the loss of too much electrolytes. So make sure that you are hydrated before you start with exercising, keep drinking small sips of water during exercising (large glugs can give gastrointestinal trouble) and make sure you keep drinking enough after exercise.
Pre-workout food is meant to make stock up on the important nutrients for exercising. When you’re doing mainly cardio, you need carbs to have enough power/energy to complete an intense workout. Carbohydrates are metabolized quickly into glucose, which is the fuel for your muscles. This also means that you cannot eat them too long in advance, the optimal window is 30-60 minutes before exercise. For a steady energy supply eat some protein and fiber as well, this also prevents a sugar dip. Whole foods like fruit, vegetables, legumes and whole grains are best, because they are nutritionally rich and release energy more slowly than processed/sugary foods.
When you’re mainly doing strength training, you need carbs to have enough power/energy to complete an intense workout but you also need enough protein to for tissue repair/to build up muscles. Because protein takes longer to digest, eat 1-2 hours before workout. Lean proteins like eggs, skimmed milk products and chicken are best.
Make sure you eat not too much, not too fat, and not just before exercising: your body will be busy with metabolizing, which will make you feel tired and will give you gastrointestinal troubles during workout. For the same reasons, don’t eat during exercise. Only during something like a triathlon you will need extra fuel during exercising, special products for such purposes exist.
Post-workout meals are important to supply the body with protein (within 2 hours) for muscle repair and to replenish carbs and electrolytes (within 30-60 minutes) that were used/lost during exercise. The good choices are the same as the pre-workout meals.

I always do a combination of cardio and strenght training when I exercise, so I eat carbs as well as proteins. Because I usually exercise in the evening, just before my evening meal, I really need to make sure that I eat enough before workout. When I don’t, I feel sluggish and tired and cannot do as much as I like. But, when I eat too late or too much, I will feel sluggish too, so I need to eat about 1-1.5 hours before exercise. Try to keep in the advised time ranges, but make sure you listen to your body too, as not everyone works the same. My evening meal is my post-workout meal, that I prepare in advance to make sure that I can eat it when I get home from workout. I make sure that it contains enough protein (a bit more than I usually eat), lots of vegetables, not too much carbs and only a little fat (you do need some fat!); it tends to be a smaller meal than my normal evening meal because I already ate the extra afternoon snack.

When you’re doing mixed exercise, the pre-workout (small) meals and post-workout snacks can actually be quite similar. Here are some ideas:
– Omelette with spinach (or other veggies) and whole grain toast
– Smoothie (with Greek yoghurt, fruits and flaxseeds)
– Greek yoghurt with fruit and a little honey (optional: home-made granola)
– Oatmeal or quinoa made with (coconut) milk, served with (dried) fruit and a little honey
– Whole grain bread/pita/tortilla with vegetables and houmous
– Whole grain toast with nut butter (almond, peanut, etc, choose a natural variant with no additions) and fruit (apple, pear, banana)
– Whole grain toast with fish (canned tuna, canned salmon) and tomato or grilled paprika
– Sandwich with slices of chicken (or ham or turkey) and tomato (optional: cheese)
– Cooked eggs with cajun seasoning (or another spice mix you like)
– Homemade quesadillas
– Baba ganoush with grissini
– Tortilla with ham, (cream) cheese and garden cress/alfafa sprouts
– Tortilla with raw ham, mozzarella and (dried) tomato
– Tortilla with smoked chicken, cream cheese and rocket
– Tortilla with guacamole, tomato, lettuce and smoked meat/pastrami
– Tomatoes or dates filled with goats cheese
– Small portion of leftovers like pasta or rice salad

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